The Secret Life of City Deer: a walk in the woods

Thanks to Hurricane Hazel in 1958, there are no longer houses in the valleys of the three rivers that flow southward to Lake Ontario through our city. The flood plains have become parkland. I live near the western-most river where farmland that had become a golf course when Hazel hit is now a woods crisscrossed by hidden paths.

On Sunday, a friend and I set out with his shiba inu for a walk there. The park entrance is more or less across the road from where I live and is a paved bicycle/pedestrian path. We left the path almost immediately and took a dirt path into the woods. The dog decided to explore an open glade where the trilliums bloomed last May while we searched for the over-grown path we had taken a month before. My friend called her to come and she came, walking along fallen tree trunks when possible. She is a city dog and doesn’t like to get her feet dirty.

Suddenly, I found our way blocked by a huge fallen tree, 35 ft. long with 3 trunks, uprooted from the opposite side of the marshy streambed we were following. The leaves were brown and dead, so it had probably fallen in August.

Let’s try up here,” my friend said, and I started up the steep slope through the bushes.

There they were standing under a big old apple tree, staring at me. I stopped and held up my hand to caution the others. The deer ambled off. We stood very still. We could just glimpse them as they  moved, not far, maybe 50 ft. Then they stopped. I could see one of them clearly, a young buck with horns about 7 inches long. The others were not a visible, but they were equally fearless. The buck stretched his head up and pulled down an apple.

The shiba inu sat beside us wondering what had got into us now.

The ground beneath the tree we were standing under had been worn down to earth as if the deer habitually lay there.

We left them there and quietly climbed up to the ridge trail we had been making for, before we stumbled on a miracle.

We knew the deer were there because we had seen a hind a few weeks ago, running down the hill toward the river, tail flying. This woods is no bigger than a large city block but it is very hilly and its paths are tricky leading you into unexpected places. The deer can easily stay hidden and it was only the fallen tree that led us to them.

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